Has the hapless Lam administration ever put a foot wrong? If you care to enter the Alice in Wonderland land of government propaganda you will be entranced to discover that even in the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic, the wise people in Tamar have rarely erred.

Reality tells quite another story. Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive in Name Only (CENO), seems bent on emulating France’s ailing Bourbon dynasty who, in the 18th and 19th century, were famously accused of having “learned nothing and forgotten nothing” as they went from blunder to blunder.

Carrie Lam
Chief Executive Carrie Lam at a press conference before the Executive Council meeting on January 5, 2021. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

In the CENO’s latest Bourbon-esque move she and her minions have declared that last week’s virus-hunting lockdown in Jordan was a great success.

Let’s try measuring this great success: 3,000 people were deployed to test some 7,000 residents. Thirteen were found to be carrying the virus, a success rate of 0.17 per cent.

Even if you set aside the almost criminal wastage of human resources, the dismal results of this enterprise and the shaky scientific rationale for targeting a tiny area, there is the matter of how those affected were treated. At a stroke, people living on the edge of extreme poverty lost badly needed earnings and small enterprises teetering on the brink of collapse had to throw away their stock. In response the best that the CENO had to offer was that people needed “to bite the bullet and carry on.”  

yau ma tei jordan covid lockdown PPE virus test
Photo: Ben MacLeod/HKFP.

And, just in case anyone missed this contemptible lack of concern for those affected in Jordan, the government distributed pork luncheon meat in an area of significant Muslim occupation. This may not have been a Xinjiang-style deliberate attempt to humiliate Muslims but it was an act of carelessness that typifies the Lam administration’s attitude to those without influence.

Why did the government embark on this largely pointless exercise in the first place? Could it have been the CENO’s response to calls from the Mainland for Hong Kong to assume a “wartime” awareness of the problem and act in a decisive manner, as seen in widely-used lockdowns in mainland cities?

Who knows what really goes in the opaque corridors of Tamar? However, we do know that this “success” followed that other great government “success” last September, the rollout of the community “universal” testing programme that ended up testing a mere quarter of the population, some 1.7 million people. A paltry 32 cases of infection were unearthed.

Staggeringly, some 10,000 people were deployed to carry out this charade; 6,000 healthcare workers and 4,000 civil servants as well as 2,000 IT backup staff. This squandering of resources on a herculean scale barely elicited comment because people have become immune to the government’s profligate behaviour.

Coronavirus virus covid-19 testing
File photo: GovHK.

Meanwhile Hong Kong still awaits the start of a vaccination programme. While other governments have got on with the job the CENO has been far more preoccupied with the politics of vaccination.

Lam, who castigates others for playing politics, has strained every sinew to turn the business of vaccination into a deep red display of patriotic fervour. She has focused on getting supplies from mainland companies and never misses an opportunity to stress how much the central government is helping.

The reality however is that, aside from the leading Quislings, not a single person has been vaccinated. The Sinovac vaccine, the government’s number one choice, has yet to pass the required testing regime but there is a vague chance that supplies will come from the Shanghai-based Fosun group, importing Pfizer vaccines from Germany.

(From left) Professor Paul Chan, Professor Eliza Wong and Professor Martin Wong annoucing results from a study on Hong Kong public acceptance on coronavirus vaccines. File photo: CUHK.

Just in case memories are short, now may be a good time to remind ourselves of the CENO’s infamous remark last February when she said, “I don’t want to particularly describe how well my Government has been doing.” This mindboggling piece of self-congratulation came after blunders in securing supplies of protective equipment, a failure to close the border with the mainland in a timely manner, a failure to evacuate Hongkongers from Wuhan…the list goes on.

The legacy of these failures lives on as the Hospital Authority has chosen to “celebrate” the fourth wave of the virus by “leniently” docking the pay of staff who protested over the government’s failures in combating the coronavirus, despite validation of their complaints as the administration eventually got round to acceding to their demands.

Just in case anyone believes that Lam and her Muppets are going to learn anything from their failures, let’s have a quick look at what they have planned: a big airport expansion to match an inevitable downturn in demand; and a total refusal to address hygiene issues in old buildings, a proven cause of infection, in preference to a focus on a grandiose mega-project for new housing on reclaimed land. As for helping those in real need right now, the government has made it clear that its hands are tied because money must be saved for its grand schemes.

As they don’t say in Tamar, but fervently believe in private – legacy projects first, the people second.

Correction 1/2: A previous version of this op-ed drew incorrect conclusions from testing data, falsely suggesting that Hong Kong had an infection rate of 0.68 per cent.

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Stephen Vines is a journalist, writer and broadcaster and ran companies in the food sector. He left Hong Kong with great reluctance in July 2021 following the crackdown on freedom of expression. Prior to departure he had been the host of the RTHK television current affairs programme ‘The Pulse’, a columnist for ‘Apple Daily’ and a contributor to other outlets. He continues to be a columnist for ‘HKFP’. Vines was the founding editor of 'Eastern Express' and founding publisher of 'Spike'. In London he was an editor at The Observer and in Asia has worked for international publications including, the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, BBC, Asia Times and The Independent and, during Hong Kong’s 2019/20 protests, for the Sunday Times. Vines is the author of several books, the latest being Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and Worlds’ Biggest Dictatorship